In February 2016, Baptist leadership gathered to consider how we approach the priority of mission within the Baptist Churches of Aotearoa. Five priorities emerged. Our churches are being encouraged to explore these over the next five years. Here, CHARLES HEWLETT and JONNY WEIR reflect upon one of these priorities—nurture. Specifically they ask what it means to ‘nurture grace’ within the Baptist movement.
In the parable of the three servants (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus uses familiar imagery to teach a spiritual truth—that God commands us to steward well everything he gives us. This includes our possessions, abilities, opportunities, time and circumstances. The Master’s absence is not an empty, meaningless delay, where we sit around maintaining the status quo and taking no risks. Rather it is an opportunity to put to use the talents he has blessed and entrusted us with.
This passage has application for the Baptist movement in New Zealand: God has blessed us with so much! We have been embodied by his grace. We have been entrusted with the very power of God that can cause transformation in dark and difficult places. God’s kingdom is being established in our communities and in the neighbourhoods around our churches.
But this is also a challenging passage for us as a movement because, like the frightened servant of the parable, we can bury the gifts of grace we have been entrusted with. And when we do so, it is not only the Baptist movement that misses out, but also the kingdom of God.
Burying our gifts
Here are some examples of ways we can conceal our gifts:
- We do not put women into senior leadership roles within our movement because we are too scared to risk upsetting people.
- We remain closed to the different ethnic groups that are joining us because we are worried about losing control.
- We are so concerned about preserving the status quo and the orthodox way of doing church that we fail to recognise what God is already doing down the road in our communities and our neighbourhoods.
- We are not prepared to risk losing our best and our brightest, so we do not release them to Carey Baptist College for theological education and training.
- We fear being accountable to other people, so only sixty per cent of our Baptist pastoral leaders are registered.
Becoming a nurturing church
How do we avoid burying the gifts that have been entrusted to us? As a movement and as local churches, how are we nurturing, developing, using and growing all the richness God has bestowed upon us?
There are four qualities that should be observable in a nurturing church: welcoming difference, investing in surprising places, releasing potential, and inspiring disciples.
At the heart of a nurturing church is the capacity, by the grace of Jesus, to welcome difference. The world should be completely blown away by our capacity to be diverse. After all, most of the confusion that Jesus caused in his ministry was around this radical welcoming grace. He was constantly freaking people out about who was in and who was out, who was clean and who was unclean.
Philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier says:
Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share…
A community which refuses to welcome—whether though fear, weariness, insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it is fed up with visitors—is dying spiritually. (1)
So, we welcome difference, but what then? The second quality of a nurturing church is to invest in people, but not just in those who can give you what you need.
“One of the worst things I can do as a leader with the treasure God has given me, is to spend it for my own benefit,” says Jonny Weir. “I’m talking about the dark side of leadership that sees people as a commodity, not as a treasure. If I am in your church, I want a pastor that will notice me as a treasure, not merely as someone who can help you fulfil your leadership dreams.”
Who are the people in your church that are seen but not noticed? Who is missing out on the investment of nurturing grace in your church? Be prepared for the investment question to strike in surprising places!
The third sign of a nurturing church is when people are being empowered and released. Nurturing churches are able to think ‘kingdom’ first, and ‘my local church’ second. These churches are sending churches—challenging their people to believe wider than their church and then releasing them to fulfil these big dreams.
Finally, a church that is nurturing grace is one that has a BIG God, who calls us to live lives of radical faith and risk. Many of our churches don’t nurture discipleship because they are too safe and cosy.
Gifts of grace have been bestowed on every member of the body of Christ. A faithful church will honour God by multiplying this investment of grace gifts. A strong nurturing church will be welcoming, investing, releasing and inspiring all of God’s people for the service that each is given to fulfil for the glory of God and the realisation of his kingdom.
Story: Charles Hewlett and Jonny Weir
Charles Hewlett was Principal of Carey Baptist College from November 2009 to November 2017.
Jonny Weir is Director of Ministry Training for Carey Baptist College.
This article was adapted from a presentation Charles and Jonny made at Hui 2016.
You can view the original presentation at lifelonglearning.nz/grace-nurtured.
1. Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, rev. ed (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 266-267.
Living lives of radical faith and risk
I became a Christian at the age of sixteen. I had never read a Bible before. Someone told me, ‘You need to read the Gospel of Mark.’ I got sixteen verses in and Jesus, who I didn’t know much about, tells these fishermen to drop their nets and follow him. And they did! (1) I’m a sixteen-year-old boy thinking, ‘So Jesus wants me to give up everything for him? Is that what he wants me to do?’ Now if you were my pastor, as a sixteen-year-old if I asked, “Does Jesus want me to be prepared to give up everything?” what would you say? I hope you would say, “Yes.”
A couple of chapters later, I hear Jesus ask the question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (2) This was the year that my mum and dad split up; I am in a tailspin about what family means. And I am reading that Jesus says I have a new family that is defined by giving up their lives for Jesus.
Three chapters later, Jesus tells his disciples to go into towns and cities, to cast out demons, heal sick people and preach the gospel. They are each just to wear their sandals and one shirt, and to carry a staff in their hand. They are not to take any bread or a bag, and not to carry any money. (3) And I’m like, ‘What? So we have to live radically missional lives, with complete dependency on God for support?’ I am starting to think, ‘This is my life now. Jesus is re-organising the whole deal. He has changed everything.’
Imagine a sixteen-year-old boy getting to chapter eight and hearing the words that have been the most haunting words throughout my entire life from that day forward: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (4) A bomb went off in my life. This entire deal is all about him. I die and he comes alive in me.
So, this is the question that haunts me now, several decades on: If it was so clear to me then that life I am to live is all about him, how on earth have I somehow twisted it and made it about me? How did that happen? What will it take to recover that again? Because, as a leader, that’s what the next generation needs to see.
Story: Jonny Weir
1. Mark 1: 16-18 2. Mark 3:33-35 3. Mark 6:7-9 4. Mark 8:34-36
Photo credit: Aaron Kitzo - Film Photographer/lightstock.com
Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.